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Strike draws attention to inmate workers in GMU dining halls

Updated, 6:37 p.m.:

The recent strike among George Mason University food-service workers has drawn attention to the use of inmates from the Fairfax County Jail as employees in the dining halls.

A "small number" of inmates were among the workers who served GMU students as relief workers during the recent strike, a spokesman for a food-service company said.

Several dozen Sodexo food-service workers at GMU walked out this month over working conditions in the dining operation, according to union officials. They said workers "have suffered cuts, burns and broken bones on the job," and requested safety measures.

The strike began Sept. 8 and ended Sept. 10.

Sodexo spokesman Alfred King said in an e-mail that almost 90 percent of its employees remained at work during the strike, adding, "We continued serving our customers using our own employees -- including GMU student employees who volunteered to work additional hours -- and other resources, including a small number of employees from the Pre-Release Center of the Fairfax County Sheriff's Office."

Union spokesman Matt Painter told the Fairfax Times that he found it "appalling that Sodexo would use prisoners to try to break the picket line."

The Sodexo spokesman said the French multinational is "proud of its relationship" with the jail's Pre-Release Center. A nonprofit called the SkillSource Group collaborates with the county to run the center, which places workers in jobs and provides skills training, he said.

"All the participants are non-violent offenders who have been screened for good behavior during their incarceration and have never been convicted of a sex or child-related crime," King wrote. "They also undergo pre-employment background checks by Sodexo. While working outside the jail, these employees are tracked with electronic monitors."

An account in the Fairfax paper says inmates "were in the process of being hired" as replacements when the workers walked out.

King said inmates tapped during the strike were employed at GMU or in the process of being hired at the time of the strike. Mason officials know of the program; in fact, he said, GMU researchers have noted that such programs reduce recidivism rates.

This post has been updated since it was first published.

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By Daniel de Vise  | September 21, 2010; 6:34 PM ET
Categories:  Administration, Labor, Students  | Tags:  GMU strike, George Mason strike, Sodexo strike, inmates at GMU, prisoners GMU, prisoners at George Mason  
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